Gov. Gavin Newsom aims to revolutionize San Quentin State Prison with restorative justice model

(Courtesy of the Governor's Office)

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom is seeking $20 million from the state Legislature to turn San Quentin State Prison, the oldest and most notorious prison in the state, into “the preeminent restorative justice facility in the world.”

On Friday, Newsom announced his aim to transform San Quentin into a rehabilitation center by 2025. The plan involves studying restorative justice practices from around the world to develop an evidence-based approach that will be called the California Model. This model aims to reduce recidivism and facilitate the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into society. The advisory group, co-chaired by San Quentin Wardn Ron Broomfield and Dr. Brie Williams, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, will comprise public safety experts, advocates, survivors of crime and formerly incarcerated people, among others.

Data from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for fiscal year 2015-2016 shows that over two-thirds of people who were released from California prisons were rearrested within three years. Newsom said that the state’s old approach to public safety is not working and that rehabilitation should be more heavily prioritized going forward.

“We have to be in the homecoming business,” Newsom said. “It’s not just about rehabilitation, it’s about homecoming … You want people coming back feeling better. Not, in the nomenclature of Jesse Jackson, feeling bitter.”

San Quentin has been shifting its focus away from a punitive model and embracing more trauma-informed and rehabilitative programs for years. Warden Broomfield said in a statement that the prison has a history of challenging the status quo, as seen in the 1940s when the dungeons were closed and replaced with educational and vocational programs.

“Today, we again challenge the status quo as we reimagine San Quentin and create an environment where people are empowered to discover their full potential while pursuing educational and vocational opportunities that will prepare them for a successful future — and make our communities safer,” Broomfield said.

Dr. Williams said that these changes will redefine the role San Quentin plays in society and help it become “a center for healing trauma, repairing harm, expanding knowledge, restoring lives, and improving readiness for community return.”

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